Irreverent Mama

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Devious Mama, I am... :-)

It is March Break, the schools are off, and the stepkids are here for half the week. They arrived Saturday morning, and will leave Wednesday at noon.

I used to really grate against all the ways that the stepkids, product of a very different family in which they spend the bulk of their time, just didn't mesh with this household and how things are done here. I tried to let it go, take a breath and let it goooo, but some of their quirks make for A LOT more work for me, which goes beyond tolerable. Some things I have let go - their much later bedtime than my own childrens' bedtime, for example. Other things, I've found ways to get my way without conflict.

Take the Example of The Towels.

There are five of them, and four shower daily. (One, a 14 year-old girl, never showers unless told to. I mean this literally. I have never, the past ten years, seen her decide to take a shower. No matter how filthy or odiferous. Not once. However, in our small and overpopulated house with its ONE small bathroom, a child who does not shower can be a blessing! We direct her there once a week and apart from that and overpowering odiferousness, we leave it lie. Good enough...)

Our household habit regarding bath towels is that every person has one, in a colour of their choosing so they don't get confused, hung on a peg in their room. After a shower, it is returned to the peg, and is washed only after three or so showers. If it's hung promptly, it doesn't get musty. Often in the summer, they are hung on the line out back to dry: lovely and fresh!

I provided the five stepkids with towels of their own, and pegs, and explained the system. It never stuck. It's been years, and the towels are still mostly left lying in moldering heaps in the bathroom or on bedroom floors. Gah. For years this has irked me. Years.

Why have I allowed it to go on so long? I am a child organizer extraodinaire. Those TV nannies - whom I have never watched - have nothing on me. So why can't I instill this habit in these children? Because I am ambivalent. Mixed feelings inhibit the consistency necessary to teach new patterns. I remind them some days but not others. There are no consequences for forgetting. This is my doing, born of my ambivalence.

Why am I ambivalent? I feel badly for them. Their alternate weekends with us are abberations in their lives in which there are already so many things that are different for them. Their mother and father are such different people. Their two homes are night and day different in style and expectations. As a result, those poor kids already make innumerable adjustments every time they're with us as it is, probably more adjustments than I am aware of, and I'm aware there are lots of little things. I hate to be the nagging evil stepmother demanding still more. I feel sorry for them, and I recoil from being "the crank at dad's house", even while they sometimes exasperate me.

This year I got smart. I don't always have to be direct. I don't always have to tell, remind, nudge, nag. So now? I find a towel on the floor, I hang it to dry. The next day, I take it, fold it neatly, and put it back in the bin in the linen closet. The kids go to the closet, and grab yesterday's towel! Is it not brilliant? Devious, but a satisfactory result. Yes, it means they are possibly reusing someone else's towel, but nobody knows but me. They get laundered when necessary, but this is not daily.

I do a fair number of things like that. Things that protect my sanity and don't increase my work load 150%. If this makes me an evil, devious stepmom, that's fine with me. Better than being the evil, nagging stepmom.

Pragmatism - and compassion - rules.


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